technical terms, this is called raising the "harvest index." Thus, 50 years ago wheat had a harvest index of 32 percent; now it can be as much as 48 percent in some cultivars. In other words, almost half of the weight of the plant (above ground) is now grain.

Moreover, reducing the height makes the plants less likely to get top-heavy and blow over in a summer storm. In addition, the squat, strong plants are more able to benefit from fertilizer, which otherwise would make them spindly and top-heavy. And dwarfing not only boosts yields: wherever mechanical harvesting is practiced, short stature means that the seedheads can be efficiently captured by combine harvesters so that larger areas can be planted.

So far, only a few of the world's sorghums have had their architecture refashioned in this way. Nonetheless, an increasing number of short-stalked sorghums that mature at an even height and can be harvested by combine are becoming available. Most have been created in North America. Indeed, all of America's commercial grain types are now dwarfs.

Initially, sorghums in the United States were tall and had a harvest index of 21 or 22 percent (about the same as in the spindly subsistence types now grown in West Africa), but careful selection, followed by intensive breeding, has reduced the internode length. Now the harvest index for many improved types used in the United States, Mexico, and Argentina is 48-52 percent, as high as that of wheat.

Dwarf sorghums have also been created at research stations in Zambia. These local dwarfs, as well as those from overseas, could eventually usher in a new era for the continent.11

Convenience Foods

As has been noted, commercial sorghum's major problem in Africa is that markets for flour and foods are undeveloped. If this were overcome, a large and healthy trade between a country's own sorghum farmers and its cities could operate to everyone's benefit. Today, ever-increasing numbers of city folk are being weaned onto wheat-flour bread and white rice, and any resulting economic benefits go mostly to farmers and traders a world away. The tragedy is that many of the city dwellers, especially newcomers, are accustomed to sorghum foods and would continue to purchase them if they could.

It is not inconceivable that Africa could produce vast amounts of sorghum flour and sorghum-based processed foods for sale in the cities

11  

Information from S. Carr. Dwarf types have also been introduced in West Africa but, so far at least, have performed poorly.



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